LORAIN — Camaco workers attempting to unionize are seeking support from Lorain County commissioners.
The Board of Commissioners at their upcoming Tuesday meeting are expected to discuss a resolution written by Commissioner Tom Williams asking Camaco management to respect workers’ right to unionize if they choose.
Camaco makes seat backs, seat frames and metal stampings at the 160,000-square-foot plant, at 3400 Industrial Park Road, according to the company’s website.
It employs 215 people in Lorain, and its customers include Ford Motor Co., Lear Corp. and the Woodbridge Foam Corp. It employs 1,110 people at its four plants nationally.
Commissioners Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski said at Wednesday’s meeting that they would prefer a generic resolution that doesn’t name Camaco.
Williams said the symbolic resolution will carry more weight if Camaco is named.
State Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, who is running against the Republican Williams, said he supports workers’ right to unionize. Lundy, who wasn’t at the meeting, accused Williams of political opportunism, which Williams denied.
Camaco company officials didn’t return a call Wednesday.
The company’s facility is in the ward of Councilman Brian Gates, D-2nd Ward.
Gates said he has been approached by United Auto Workers members about Camaco and is considering proposing a resolution in support of the workers’ right to unionize.
Council in February approved the sale of 3.46 acres of land west of the plant.
The $103,800 sale will allow for a 40,000-square-foot expansion, which Mayor Chase Ritenauer said could create at least 100 jobs.
Ritenauer wrote in a Wednesday email that Camaco has received tax breaks from Lorain in the past and Council has the right to review them. Ritenauer said regardless of whether workers unionize, he wants to see Camaco “grow and prosper.”
Allegations of union-busting at Camaco are not new. In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a Camaco manager was “coercively interrogating” two workers and unjustly fired one of them after they tried to unionize in 2006. The NLRB ordered Camaco to rehire the worker and pay him back pay.
Besides unionizing, Williams’ resolution asks Camaco to pay workers more. The resolution said many workers make $10.50 per hour or less, which Williams said is in the bottom 10 percent for auto parts workers nationally.
“All jobs aren’t created equal,” the resolution said. “Employers that pay a livable wage, maintain a safe workplace and treat workers with respect not only help our communities, but they help themselves create a more stable, committed workforce.”
Williams, who met Wednesday with about a dozen Camaco workers at United Auto Workers Local 2000 in Sheffield, said the resolution was prompted by worker complaints.
Matthew Fox, who said he was hired in 2012, said he was told April 14 by Camaco that he was “indefinitely suspended.” Fox said the discipline came eight days after he passed out fliers outside the company inviting workers to a meeting about unionizing.
Fox said he has never missed a day of work and had no disciplinary problems, but he had been vocal about working conditions and wore a UAW T-shirt and buttons. Fox, who said he earned $10.66 per hour, said that for two weeks during the winter there was no heat, and temperatures in the plant were as low as 18 degrees.
“We were told to work faster and that will keep us warm,” he said.
Fox said temperatures in July were as high as 120 degrees and workers were fainting on a daily basis, with some having to be hospitalized. Fox said when he complained, a supervisor said he was taking the heat too seriously.
“This was the day after two of my people went home vomiting with pale, clammy skin,” Fox said.
Fox said a lack of ventilation at the plant makes it hard to breathe and cracked shipping containers are dangerously stacked. Fox’s allegations were supported by Darrell Eberhardt, who said he was hired in 2013.
He said welders’ fingertips nearly froze in the winter and smoke from welding makes it hard to see. Eberhardt, who said he earns $10 per hour, said unionizing might raise wages.
Eberhardt said he has an associate degree in applied science but can’t find other work. “People who have associates or even bachelor’s degrees are working for peanuts because the jobs just ain’t there,” he said.
Jerome Williams, UAW Local 2000 president, said the local supports the workers. However, they are in for an uphill battle, according to Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, Cornell University’s Labor Education Research director.
Bronfenbrenner said she studied about 1,500 organizing drives nationally between 1986 and 2005. About 33 percent of the time, workers were fired for organizing. Bronfenbrenner said companies also frequently threaten to close, move or lay off workers.
“They start months before the union campaign ever gets to a petition, so many campaigns never get off the ground,” she said. “All of that is what workers have to go through in the private sector in order to organize.”
Reporter Brad Dicken contributed to this story.